Wait… you’re thinking of a career… don’t tell us… magician? Ta-da!
Magic is making a comeback. Ask anyone standing in line for a Harry Potter movie. People have been enthralled with magic since ancient Egypt. One of the oldest stories about a magician performing tricks for the Pharaoh’s court was recorded 4,000 years ago in a document called the Westcar Papyrus. And we don’t mean that thing where the staff turned into a snake and then ate the other snakes. Throughout history, magicians have wowed audiences with their ability to divert attention, use sleight of hand, conjure spirits and escape life-threatening situations. Mankind has always had a fascination with watching their fellow human beings perform the seemingly impossible. It is nothing short of life-affirming to see a magician defy death (or at least to make it appear that way).
Uh-oh. He's screwed.
There are numerous different types of magic performances that you can perform. Here is just a sampling:
Stage Illusionists: These are your David Copperfields, your Siegfried & Roys. They perform on a big stage – usually with a ton of flashing lights and pretty colors to distract you from their trickery – while you sit back a ways in the audience, too far away to discern their sleight of hand, but wowed by the grandeur and magnitude of their illusions. It’s also a much safer place to include Bengal tigers in your act than at a children’s birthday party.
Table Illusionists: These magicians specialize in close-up magic. They are less about the pomp and presentation, and more about the actual magic. They can do things with a deck of cards right in front of your face that will blow your mind just as much as the guy making the Subaru disappear.
Escape Artists: These guys are a little rare nowadays, but many magicians dabble at least a little in escapology. Escape tricks often involve some combination of a straitjacket, heavy chains, a large safe and often a tank of water. The idea is usually for the escape artist to bind himself up good and tight, and then attempt to free himself before something disastrous happens to him. Like getting pecked to death by a bevy of doves.
Mentalists: Mentalists can perform on large stages or in more intimate settings. They purport to be able to “read your mind” or to otherwise intuit something that seems impossible to intuit. The reason it seems impossible? Because it is. There’s a reason these things are called “illusions”…
How do you decide what works best for you? Pick a performance that highlights your best skills. Master the basics (Chinese linking rings, card tricks, rope tricks, cup and balls, vanishing coins, cutting and repairing a card or napkin) and see what you enjoy doing the most and what best shows off your abilities. Then move on from there and try some of the bigger, more advanced stuff (sawing someone in half, escape tricks, levitation, bullet catch, Indian rope trick). Love performing in front of a large audience? Stage illusions like the ones performed every day in Las Vegas theaters may be right up your alley. Especially if you have a lot of sequined jumpsuits hanging in your closet.
Magicians are more than just specialized tricksters. To make a name for yourself, you must have a captivating stage presence. It is important to be able to command the audience’s attention. No one will remember a bumbling magician’s performance. Or, if they do, it won’t be in a good way.
Like a writer, a magician must be able to build suspense. Harry Houdini, the most famous magician of all time, understood suspense. He pioneered the belief that a magician must create a bond with his/her audience. Without using Gorilla Glue. It wasn’t enough for Houdini to mystify an audience. He wanted them to care about his welfare. To create this bond, he dressed in eveningwear like the wealthy members in his audience. This stage “costume” established a sense of trust and respect. People identified with his upscale attire and parlor-like stage design. The intimate atmosphere gave his audience the impression that his tricks were real occurrences and not the workmanship of deceptive theatrics. It would be the equivalent of Ashton Kutcher never running out and letting his victims know they’ve been punk’d. That show would have a totally different vibe.
Inventiveness plays a major role in a magician’s life. It’s important to invent a persona that you can market in the entertainment world. After years of getting the basics down, magicians generally develop their own unique routine. Magicians such as Siegfried and Roy, David Copperfield, Max Maven and Lance Burton perform tricks – sorry, illusions - that reinforce their stage persona. Some magicians go big and bold, with lots of exaggerated arm gestures and ridiculously big smiles or arches of the eyebrow, others are more subtle in their approach, and still others rely on humor to connect with the audience. Card tricks and doves don’t have to be ousted from your routine as long as your stage persona is appealing to audiences. You might even be able to make your audience forget that they’re seeing the Chinese linking ring trick for the 500th time in their lives.
If you like the unique combination of acting, science, the paranormal and math, you may enjoy being a magician. Like other careers in the entertainment field, you will encounter stiff, non-Viagra-assisted competition. Countless magicians are pulling rabbits out of a hat while waiting by the phone. Once you have some experience performing, getting a manager or agent will help you book gigs. Managers and agents help you develop your brand, create merchandizing and book tours. You could be hired by a major theatrical venue to perform in front of thousands of paying audience members, you could book a one-week gig performing in a 25-seat theater at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, or you could be commissioned to perform for an hour at a 13-year-old’s bar mitzvah. All depends on your skill level and where you are at in your career.
While it may seem like an uphill road to join the ranks of magicians like Penn and Teller, David Blaine and Criss Angel, it is possible with a lot of hard work… and a little magic.